Three people have been killed and several more have been injured after being caught in avalanches in the Swiss Alps over the Christmas period this year. On Saturday 23 December three climbers were caught in an event while climbing in the Canton of Valais (or Wallis) in the southwestern part of the country; two of these climbers escaped with minor injuries, but the third, an as yet un-named 29-year-old woman was taken to hospital with serious injuries and died the following day. On Sunday 24 December a 31-year-old Frenchman was killed while attempting a solo ascent of Mount Glattwang in the Canton of Grisons (or Graubünden) in the eastern part of the country. Finally, on Monday 25 December, a party of five Swiss skiers were hit by an avalanche close to the peak of Mount Hofathorn, again in Valais Canton, with one 39-year-old man being swept to his death.
Mount Glattwang in the Canton of Grisons, where a French climber died on 24 December 2017. Glecksteinhütte.
Avalanches are caused by the mechanical failure of snowpacks; essentially when the weight of the snow above a certain point exceeds the carrying capacity of the snow at that point to support its weight. This can happen for two reasons, because more snow falls upslope, causing the weight to rise, or because snow begins to melt downslope, causing the carrying capacity to fall. Avalanches may also be triggered by other events, such as Earthquakes or rockfalls. Contrary to what is often seen in films and on television, avalanches are not usually triggered by loud noises.
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